Kaslo and Slocan Railway

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The Kaslo and Slocan Railway was a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railway between Kaslo, Slocan, and the mining community of Sandon in the Kootenay region of British Columbia between 1895 and 1955 totalling about 53 km (33 mi) of track. It was operated originally by the Great Northern Railway and later by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

History as K&S[edit]

After silver was found in the mountains near what is now known as Sandon in 1891, several investors obtained a provincial charter in 1892 to build a railway between Kaslo and the new mines. Kaslo, on the shore of Kootenay Lake was served by steamers connecting with railways near Creston and Nelson, British Columbia.

The railway was built west up Kaslo River to the pass with Seaton Creek, passed across the hill above the boom town of Three Forks to Sandon. The Canadian Pacific Railway had already reached Three Forks in late 1894 by building from the west from Nakusp on the Arrow Lakes with its Nakusp and Slocan Railway. Both railways reached Sandon in late 1895.

Construction on the railway started in 1895 after obtaining financial backing from the Great Northern Railway which was seeking advantages against the Canadian Pacific Railway and traffic for its mainline at Spokane. Great Northern had gained control of the Nelson and Fort Sheppard Railway in 1893 which gave it access to Kootenay Lake. Great Northern bought out the original investors in 1897 making the railway part of the Great Northern system under the Kootenay Railway and Navigation banner. Much of the ore from the K&S was shipped to US smelters, providing traffic for the GN.

The Kaslo and Slocan faced stiff competition with the CPR's Nakusp and Slocan for the ore from the mines. On December 16, 1895, crews from the Kaslo and Slocan attacked and demolished the station the CPR had just built on land disputed between the two railways. The CPR relocated the station to other land. Both railways competed with building spurs to service mines in order to obtain ore traffic destined for the other railway.

View from the Kaslo and Slocan Railway

The K&S was very profitable in the later 1890s. The railway had high operating costs because of its location along the side of step hills, many of which had been burned in forest fires, which subject the line to frequent snow and mud slides. In 1900, when Sandon burned to the ground and labour problems at the mines spelt an end to the boom years causing financial problems for the railway. By 1904, the line was losing money on each train it ran.

In 1908, service was suspended to Sandon, with trains only servicing as far as McGuigan because expensive repairs needed to be done to bridges damaged by spring slides. While the track was rebuilt, service was never restored. In 1910, a serious forest fire burned much of the remaining major bridges and snow sheds.

History under CPR[edit]

In 1911, GN sold the railway to Kaslo business people and local mine owners who revived the line enough to ship ore from the pass near Bear Lake down to Kaslo. With backing from the provincial government, in 1912, the CPR agreed to lease the K&S for 999 years. The CPR rebuilt it to standard gauge and connected it with its existing Nakusp & Slocan line by abandoning the exposed section across Payne Bluff and thereby establishing a line from Nakusp through to Kaslo in November 1913.

The region had a moderate boom during World War I with the increased need for minerals but otherwise experienced gradual decline in rail tracks. The CPR operated the line until it was abandoned. The pass between Sandon and Kaslo was severed in 1955 due to flooding.

Route[edit]

The railway climbed steeply (3.35%) out of Kaslo to the first bench and then the pass at Bear Lake. From there the railway stayed level as it rounded Payne Bluff above the 'Three Forks' confluence and on to Sandon on Carpenter Creek. Branch lines served the Cody mines higher up the valley above Sandon. Riblet tramway brought silver ore down to mill and K and S siding. The line suffered from several steep sections as well as tight curves.

References[edit]

  • Turner, Robert and Wilkie, David (1994). The Skyline Limited: The Kaslo and Slocan Railway, Victoria:Sono Nis Press